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Thursday, Dec 10, 2009
I've stuck by it through thick and thin, but Ugly Betty is over for me. Poor acting, ridiculous plots, and sanctimonious moralising have put an end to it.

I am done with Ugly Betty.


It’s been a long time coming, but this week was finally the week I called time on my two-year relationship with this soap opera set in the fashion dynasty of Mode. For a long time, Ugly Betty was the staple of my Friday nights. Yes, it was saccharine and Betty was irritating, but I put up with it anyway. However, halfway through the third season, I decided that enough was more than enough. The pros—the wonderful performance of Michael Urie, the divine comic duo that was Mark and Amanda, Judith Light as matriarch Claire—were vastly outweighed by the cons. At the risk of sounding childish and immature, I do not see how America Ferrera could possibly have won an Emmy. Her performance is mediocre at best (although the one-note and holier-than-thou attitude of her character does not help matters). There are brilliant comic actresses on TV, and Ferrera is just not one of them. The writing has descended further and further into the black hole that is soap opera.


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Wednesday, Dec 9, 2009
After this week’s fall finale, Glee is taking a hiatus until April. Seems like plenty of time for a little sensitivity training.

Glee is a frothy little show. It’s got spunk. The musical numbers are cheesy and fun. The cast is generally game for the kitsch and capable of carrying the story on those occasions when the scripts call for a bit more. Though it is not as funny as it thinks it is, there’s still enough humor to get a couple of genuine chuckles each hour.


But there is a problem in Glee-ville. What’s the best way to put this? In keeping with the let’s-put-on-a-show attitude, allow me to paraphrase a song from the great off-Broadway musical, Avenue Q.


Everyone’s a little bit racist. And so is Glee.


Tagged as: avenue q, glee
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Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009
Now that Jennifer has packed her knives and gone, who will be the next Top Chef?

On the first part of the Top Chef finale, which aired on Bravo on Wednesday, December 2 (and which will re-air about fifty times between now and next Wednesday), the final four chef-testants (love it) were narrowed to three, and I for one was sad to see Jennifer depart.  Like many viewers (the show is achieving record-high ratings for the network), I have been captivated by the current season, and I was sorry to see, in an otherwise male-dominated season, the last female contestant eliminated, especially given the misogynist comments of several cast members (Eli and Michael, particularly).


So now it’s time to place your bets… who will take the title of Top Chef?  Who will win the 125K and the… kitchen equipment?  A bunch of stuff from Macy’s?  A photo spread in Glamour?  I usually fast-forward the part where they explain the prizes.


Anyway, here is where I will be putting my money:


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Monday, Dec 7, 2009
This episode was played really well -- and played pretty close to the race line. Neither have iconic images as old as the archetypical bi-racial character in Imitation of Life, the 1959 classic with the tragic mulatto, nor has the sheer election of Barack Obama pressed Americans to tackle the race question head on. In the thick of those two eras stands a time when television seemed to have more gall around "difference".

In this episode of The Jeffersons, the tragic mulatto speaks out, embodied in Jenny’s brother who drops in for this episode to trace out the race line more acutely than George Jefferson in his taunts towards the bi-racial couple upstairs, the odd, old-world neighbor. The show regularly shores up ratings via those slapstick/teachable moments when George, Louise, or their maid Florence falter over the class line—they’z done moved on up. Into this steps the half-blood neighbor’s kid returning home from life beyond this culture’s particular color line, and what he says is phenomenal.


According to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, the tragic mulatto “is the antithesis of the mammy caricature” who knew her place on “the bottom rung” of the gender, race, and class hierarchy in America. Moreover, in the system of slavery, mixed-race slaves as cotton and tobacco pickers of North America were considered “pure Black”, whereas the cane cultivators of the rest of the New World established a wider, more nuanced racialized gender and class hierarchy. Whatever the case, this new racialized body of the mulatto was ripe for subordination into the sickest of racist fantasies: “All slave women (and men and children) were vulnerable to being raped, but the mulatto afforded the slave owner the opportunity to rape, with impunity, a woman who was physically White (or near-White) but legally Black.” Ferris State’s comprehensive website corroborates an oft mentioned opinion expressed by my own grandfather—a former sharecropper from Alabama—who dismisses the mass worship of fair skin, dismissing tragic mulattos as “symbols of rape and concubinage”. Much of the tragedy around which pop cultural portrayals of mulattos inevitably rotate around tropes of sexual exploitation, and a lack of understanding and acceptance of one’s ordained place in society. It is here where The Jeffersons attempts to dislodge this common portrayal and open up public discourse to own own fantasies rather through allowing the mulatto to speak directly on these issues.


Tagged as: the jeffersons
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Friday, Dec 4, 2009

If ‘80s cartoons like ThunderCats, Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man can be said to have one thing in common, it’s that none of them withstand objective scrutiny. If you can still claim to enjoy these or most any other animated series from the ‘80s on anything but the most ironic level, then your nostalgia is far more durable than mine.


To be fair, though, the aim of such shows was simply to sell toys, and in that regard they were indisputably triumphant. Not a single show among them was produced with the expectation that stunted weirdos like me would still be pondering their legacies two decades later; no writer or animator could have possibly anticipated such artistic accountability while preparing the latest episode of Silverhawks.


Still, to cite ThunderCats again, while no reasonable person expects an anthropomorphic lion in a powder blue unitard to seem as cool in 2009 as he (inexplicably) seemed in 1985, I know that I am not alone in feeling disappointed that even the animation in these old shows now seems clunky and inconsistent and mostly embarrassing (He-Man is something of an exception, in that Filmation cut so many corners and relied on stock poses and the like to such an extent that the animation, though minimalist, remains fluid and organic to some degree).


Tagged as: bionic six
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